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Summarizing as a Technique for Improving Lyrics

One of the most common problems songwriters mention with regard to lyrics is that they can sound muddled and aimless. And that can be a tough problem to solve.

When you write lyrics, you’re usually trying to be at least somewhat poetic. And things can sound confusing and disorganized pretty quickly when you’re trying to be poetic.

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It’s very important that a lyric have a good sense of direction. You want the listener to be able to say what the song is about, even if it takes them a few listens to fully figure it out. And you want each verse to be able to add to the story, and do so in an ordered, sensible way.

But if you find that your lyrics don’t sound organized or ordered, what do you do about it? The first important step to troubleshooting lyrics is to be able to summarize what each section of your song is trying to say.

If you then put those little summaries in chronological order, you should get the semblance of a story, and it should make sense. In fact, that assembling of summaries could and should make better sense than the actual lyric, because in a summary, you’re not trying to be poetic; you’re trying to be as clear as you can.

So if muddled lyrics are your problem, try this:

  1. Have a copy of your full lyric in front of you, and read it through several times. You might catch the problem even at this stage, if you notice that your lyric isn’t actually saying what you thought it was saying!
  2. Write a short summary of the lyric of each section. Think about what you were trying to say with that first verse. If your song is metaphorical, like Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill”, for example, you might try to explain the metaphor in this summary, or you may simply summarize the verse in metaphorical terms: “I went out of the city, climbed a mountain, saw an eagle which spoke to me, telling me he’d come to take me home.” In any case, get each section of lyric summarized.
  3. Read the summaries in sequence. Read them as if you’ve just written a short story. Does each section flow naturally one to the next? Are there any glitches or nonsensical sequences of thoughts?

This is just one technique of many possible ones, and it’s specifically designed to at least help you get the story straight. When lyrics sound confusing, it’s often the case that important story elements have been neglected. Making and reading a summary is one of the best ways to ensure that you’ve got your lyric’s story working properly.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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